A Travellerspoint blog

October 2010

Day Fourteen (and into fifteen) - our last day(s) in Armenia

Sunday 13 June 2010

sunny 87 °F

This was our last full day in Armenia as our flight was due out early Monday morning. Our plan was to have another excursion with Saro, this time to Ejmiatsin. Before we left, Lia, our landlady's daughter came round with a bottle of brandy for our brother Rod. We were under strict instructions that we all had to have a first drink together. We then went on our way and took the same road we had taken a few days earlier when we had gone to Saradapat. We passed the casinos and the streets lined with furniture shops. Apparently, the contents of the shops are dragged out in the morning and then dragged in again at the end of the day. This would not work in England.

Ejmiatsin Cathedral was buzzing when we arrived as, being a Sunday, there were services due to take place. We saw a whole crocodile of trainee priests making their way through the gardens to the cathedral. Having been mostly in ruined monasteries, it was quite a culture shock to see the inside of a church that had all the trimmings associated with orthodox christians. A lot of gold and many icons around the walls. This is meant to be the oldest christian site in Armenia after one of the Saints saw a vision of Christ carrying a golden hammer which he struck on the ground three times. The church has changed and been rebuilt, renovated and extended since the very first one was built. We didn't stay to hear a service but went back towards Yerevan to see the last item on our itinerary - Zvartnots. This is a ruined church that collapsed sometime in the 7th Century I think because of an earthquake. It's quite interesting as it looks as if its totally round. Apparently, it wasn't actually round but had 32 sides and was three stories high. What was really interesting were the number of mulberry bushes on the site, bowed down with very ripe fruit. I can't remember the last time I ate a mulberry. We ate loads, getting purple fingers in the process. I think that the vodka is made from the white variety of mulberry.

As it was our last afternoon in Yerevan, we had to make sure we managed to get everything that we needed to take home with us before starting the horrible job of packing. To have a break from the heat we spent a little bit of time in an internet cafe on Amiryan Street. When we had first arrived in Yerevan we didn't think there were any internet cafes. In reality there were lots, mostly in the basement of shop or office buildings. We had tried to keep this blog up-to-date as much as possible but had got behind in the provinces due to the lack of connectivity. This is actually being completed nearly 3 months later - luckily I took notes while we were travelling otherwise I wouldn't remember any of it.

We wanted to buy some flowers for Viva our homestay host and were anxious to avoid buying imported flowers. We decided to walk to the Cascades, one of our first discoveries when we first arrived in Yerevan, and had lunch at one of our favourite cafes - Retro Cafe. Although we had pasta the evening before we decided to go for the pasta again which was very, very good. We resisted the temptation to climb up the Cascades for the last time and just admired it from the cafe instead.

We finally found a florist which did some very sweet arrangements which were all kept in a fridge. I wouldn't have minded spending a bit of time in the fridge myself - I wondered if the florists ever went in to cool down. When I worked at the Watershed in Bristol during one really hot month I used to go and cool down in their walk in fridge on a regular basis! The other item I needed to buy was some vodka which I got at the local supermarket for a very small amount of money. When we went back to our homestay to pack, it was like getting a quart in a pint pot. Les' rucksack looked enormous weighing in at 17K. My case didn't look much better weighing in 2K over the allowed amount. We thought we'd be OK as between us we just reached the required amount.

We decided to have our final meal at Caucasus as it was close and also because it had the best dolma that we had had so far. Then it was back to the homestay where Lia arrive with gifts for us. The Armenians are so generous! After a few hours of sleep we had to get up and get ready to go to the airport. Poor Saro had to be up at the crack of dawn too as we had to be at the airport at 3am. The drive there was the reverse of our arrival - it was dark but this time we knew what we were driving through - the flashing lights of the casinos were quite familiar to us now. My optimism about the weight of my luggage was short-lived as they made me transfer stuff into my hand luggage, no easy task, especially when there is a queue of people behind getting impatient. Saro was brilliant - we told him to go and get some sleep but he insisted on staying to make sure we were safely through to the departure lounge. We couldn't have asked for a better guide and driver. We would recommend him to anyone who wants to do a similar trip.

We were sad to leave Armenia - the last poster we saw as we headed to the departure gate was for the Hayastan All-Armenia Fund - the charity that we had collected money for before we had left for our holiday. I was definitely going to come back....

Posted by Cath_Greig 07:14 Archived in Armenia Tagged presents yerevan zvartnots_airport Comments (0)

Day Thirteen - a jam packed day with Hasmik

Saturday 12 June 2010

sunny 88 °F

After breakfast Hasmik arrived at about 10am to meet up with us so that we could walk together to Vernissage, the open air handicraft market just 2 minutes away from our homestay. We were so pleased to have Hasmik with us. We didn't really have to haggle but it helped to have someone with us who could ask the vendors about the stuff we were looking at. There was so much to see it was a bit overwhelming. My head started to spin! Our brother Rod had given us some money to buy things for ourselves in the market - Les wanted some gold earrings but Vernissage wasn't the best place for that. Luckily Hasmik knew a gold market that we could go to which was close by. We would never have known how to find this without having someone with us with local knowledge. Les managed to find some high quality earrings - can't remember how many carots but certainly more than you get in the UK. The other amazing thing is that they let you try them on - something we would never be allowed to do here what with health and safety and all that.

We went back towards Vernissage but stopped for some refreshments first to mull over what we wanted to buy so that we could sweep through, get everything we wanted and get out without too much damage! In the end I bought some 'pomegranate' earrings, a small crotcheted bag and a bracelet. We also bought some dolls in traditional dress and a salt holder for the home. There were so many different ones in the market it was hard to choose but I think we made a good decision.

Hasmik wanted to take us to a special restaurant which sells Karabagh food. I'm not sure what its called but it's a type of bread that looks quite similar to Naan but which contains 15 different types of greens. This is the only food that the restaurant sold and it was totally delicious. We had a bottle of red Karabagh wine to wash it down. Again, this is something we would never have known about without having someone with us who had local knowledge. After eating, we decided to go the Children's Gallery which was close by in Aboyan Street. It was a really lovely place which just exhibited children's work, some of which came from lots of countries around the world.

Next stop was the National Gallery which is next to the fountains on Republic Square. This was a bit of a trudge in the end - it was very hot in there and I found myself getting more and more dehydrated. Probably not helped by the red wine we had had earlier. The gallery was OK - I was more interested in the Armenian painters as their work doesn't really get seen in the UK. Apart from the Arshile Gorky exhibition, of course. We had seen that at Tate modern earlier in the year with Hasmik.

To refresh ourselves we went to have tea in a cafe called the Blackberry. Our waiter was openly gay and Les and I wondered if it was a gay bar. We weren't sure that it would be that easy for gay people n Armenia. We got talking about Mother Armenia and the ferris wheel that we could see at the top of the hill from the Cascades. Hasmik suggested that we took a taxi up to Discovery Park so we could see what was there. She lived close to the park and had been going there ever since she was a child. We made the most of our time up there - getting on the ferris wheel, having an ice-cream and rowing on the lake. Those must have been the heaviest oars ever - Hasmik and I took turns - my arms ached for days afterwards. It was like a strange form of weight lifting whilst in a boat!

It was after our row that we parted with Hasmik - we had a great day with her and really appreciated seeing and doing things that tourists might not normally get to do. We found our way down to the Cascades and into the city. By this time it had really cooled down and it was pleasant to make our way down the steps. We went to the Club to buy the ceramic hanging ball that we had seen on the evening that we had eaten there and decided to eat at the Italian restaurant a few doors up - Ai Leoni. We had been eating so much veg we thought a bit of pasta would be good for a bit of a change.

A pleasant stroll back for our last but one night in our homestay.

Posted by Cath_Greig 06:18 Archived in Armenia Tagged yerevan discovery_park mother_armenia Comments (0)

Day Twelve - Geghard and Garni

Friday 11 June 2010

sunny 90 °F

Another half day excursion - this time we ventured eastwards from Yerevan towards the Geghard gorge and the monastery that clings to the side. The road we took has been subject to landslides over the years so there were times when Saro had to steer around buckled tarmac. One house we passed had virtually been split in two as a result of the earth moving. Despite the dodgy road, the journey was certainly worth it because as we got close to the monastery and it came into view, it looked pretty spectacular. I think this had to be my favourite monastery so far, the setting was absolutely beautiful with a fast running river close by. The buildings were not only external, much of the monastery is carved into the rock. One room was so massive, with four straight columns, it was hard to imagine how they had managed to carve it out with such accuracy. The water in Geghard is meant to be really good so we took advantage to have a good drink from the spring. There were some school children throwing stones up at one of the walls. I was wondering why no-one was telling them off when Saro explained that if a stone is thrown at the wall and gets stuck in one of the crevices, it will bring luck to the person who has thrown it. We crossed the river to look at one of the caves and met some of the school children who tried to practice their english on us!

Apparently there are about 20 chapels hewn out of the rocks on this site. We scrabbled up to a few of them but soon it was time to get back on the road for our final destination of the day. Outside the monastery there were a lot of women who were selling their wares which were mostly gat (cake) or sheets made from dried fruit. We bought some sheets made from apricots and a string of walnuts covered in a sort of glaze.

Our next stop was another building next to a gorge - Garni temple - the only Graeco-Roman-style building in Armenia. It's been well restored after it was destroyed in an earthquake in 1679. It stands on a piece of land that juts out on the bend of the river that we could see far below. We had some great views up and down the gorge. As we walked up to the temple I thought there was some recorded music playing but it was in reality some traditional singers with lovely voices who I think I might have managed to record.

After this we travelled back to Yerevan and we decided to go back to the Congress for a lazy afternoon by the pool. On our way we bumped into our Belgian friends who we had met back a week before at Razmik's homestay. They were enjoying a coffee in the Marriott so we decided to have a drink with them and hear how they had got on with their trip to Georgia. We then made our way to the Congress which was quite close by. The staff there seemed to recognise us which was very welcoming. It was turning into yet another really hot day and I had to keep getting into the shade as I could feel the sun scorching my flesh. It was lovely being able to relax, catch up with a bit of reading and float about the pool to cool down. We stayed there as long as possible but eventually as the sun started to go down we headed off to eat before spending a bit of time by the fountains. It was then time to get back to the homestay to have a good rest as the next day we were spending a day with Anahit's sister Hasmik.

Posted by Cath_Greig 05:36 Archived in Armenia Tagged fountains monastery gorge yerevan Comments (0)

Day Eleven - excursion from Yerevan

Thursday 10 June 2010

sunny 90 °F

After a day yesterday without Saro, we were now back on the road with him on a planned half-day excursion westwards from the City out past the tacky casinos, Zvartnots Airport and a stretch of road where all the shops seem to sell furniture which sits out on the pavement rather than in the shop. Our destination is Sardarapat, a monument that marks the victory of Armenian troops over the Turks in May 1918. The victory led to the declaration of an independent Armenia in May 28, 1918. It was very quiet when we arrived with just a few cars parked in the car park. The monument is pretty impressive with a huge 35' structure with bells hanging from it and flanked on either side by Assyrian bulls carved out of Tuff. Apparently each year on May 28th its a focus for celebration with folk dancers and singers & a time when the bells are rung. Between the monument and the museum there is a long walk through well-kept gardens. It was an incredibly hot day and there was no shade the whole way. We were flagging by the time we got to the museum and needed a bottle of water to rehydrate.

The museum was pretty big with one exhibition about the battle and a lot of displays illustrating life in the Arax valley. I was impressed with the large silk screen prints that had been made by school children - they were beautifully made. Very skilful. After making our way back to the car, we had one more stop to make. Saro had to ask a few people about our destination - it wasn't obvious how to get there. The road took us past more fish ponds similar to the ones we passed through the Ararat Valley so again we saw quite a lot of storks nesting on telegraph poles etc. We finally reached the museum of Metsamor (which means Black Swamp) another building made from red tuff. This time we were the only visitors to the tiny museum. It sits on top of a mound which is apparently the site of a Bronze Age settlement. We had a look around the museum and were taken down to the basement where it was like Fort Knox. The room there had amazing gold jewellery and a weight in the form of a tiny frog made from onyx and agate. The staff there don't speak any english but Saro translated for us. They were obviously very proud of their collection. Once we were out of the museum we had a short stroll around the site. The most notable thing to see is a series of phalluses side by side increasing in height (or should I say length). Les and I had seen these on a postcard which has the view of Metsamor nuclear power station in the distance. Very scenic!

It was back to Yerevan and after a rest at our homestay, we decided to go out to see the fountains in Republic Square. We took advantage of the Marriott's close proximity and had our evening meal there for a change so we could view the fountains as we ate. I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I'd heard that the fountains danced to music with a light show and thought it would probably be a bit pathetic like the ones we have in the centre of Bristol. Was I surprised! The fountains were amazing and drew a massive crowd made up of families who seemed to be having a ball. Eat your heart out Bristol City Council, wasn't this what we were meant to have? You should be able to see a short clip of the water and light show somewhere on this blog.

We enjoyed it so much, after we had eaten, we went to join the rest of the crowd to sit next to the water for a closer view and to dip our toes in . We noticed no-one else did this. If it was Bristol everyone would be up to their knees together with foam and god knows what else. The music they were playing sounded suspiciously like a track that Oscar likes to use for his Fit and Funky class at the Dance Centre - classics with a 4/4 beat!

Eventually we tore ourselves away to go back to our accommodation for a cup of tea and a bedtime read.

Posted by Cath_Greig 04:53 Archived in Armenia Comments (0)

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